News, Systems Thinking

Q&A with Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation: Principles in Action

26 October 2021

At the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, our work is guided by seven shared principles: renewability, resilience, health, equity, diversity, inclusion, and interconnectedness. These principles shape our vision, express values, and encompass the change we want to make. In June 2021, we published Principles for Food Systems Transformation | A Framework for Action which serves to highlight our seven principles and provide an accessible guide for using the principles to inform decisions about how to act, reflect, and learn. 

Pablo Vidueira, our Blue Marble Evaluator, spoke with Marie-Stéphane Maradeix, Executive Director at the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation, a Global Alliance member foundation since 2013, to discuss how her team is using the Global Alliance’s principles in their work and to share her thoughts on how others could use them too. 


Pablo Vidueira: Before we begin, can you give us the background to the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation? 

Marie-Stéphane Maradeix: Founded in 2010, the Daniel and Nina Carasso is a family foundation affiliated with the Fondation de France. We work to transform the model of today’s society into one that is more ecological, inclusive, and one that enables sustainable development that benefits people, communities, the planet, and all living things. We are committed to two major areas: Sustainable Food which focuses on universal access to healthy food, respect of people and the ecosystems; and an area called “Art in the Community” which focuses on reinforcement of social cohesion and development of critical thinking. Driven by a commitment to social impact, we deliver projects in France and Spain.

PV: Tell us a bit about your approach to impact investing? 

MSM: The aim of our impact investing strategy is to identify models that provide solutions for a sustainable and inclusive world, while also contributing to the delivery of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As such, like many foundations, we have an Investment Code in place to help guide our investment decisions and enable us to take into account the potential of investments, while remaining consistent with the mission and values ​​of the Foundation. 

To develop a bespoke impact analysis framework to suit our work, we collaborated with Quadia, a Swiss impact investment broker that specializes in three interconnected sectors: clean energy, sustainable food, and the circular economy. Together, we founded a five-million euro impact fund on sustainable food named “FDNC-SFS (Sustainable Food Systems)” through which we have already invested in a dozen innovative small companies. We looked to the Global Alliance’s principles and ended up formally adopting them into our impact framework for this specific fund.

PV: Tell us more about this. How did the Carasso Foundation adopt the principles into your programmatic work? 

MSM: The FDNC-SFS fund has a double objective: 1) to contribute to the Foundation’s programs and its wider support of socio-economic initiatives that prioritize the satisfaction of people’s needs over profit by offering two forms of direct financing (loans and equity participation); 2) investing in promising food-tech companies or other more mature ‘for-profit’ models (especially those that market ecological products) and those that contribute balance to the profitability of the fund. 

With a focus on supporting organizations that work to accelerate the transition to healthy eating and consumption patterns that are respectful of the planet’s resources, the Global Alliance’s seven guiding principles were key in the selection process of companies that went on to benefit from the fund. First, we developed a framework where the principles were used to provide the overall vision for the fund. This went on to help us identify the specific objectives of the fund and, further, helped us shape the indicators that we would use to analyze each company that we went on to work with. This approach to analysis enables us to balance their financial potential with their impact potential. 

The principles allow us to track the progress of the project or company that has received investment (usually over a period of five-10 years) and ensure that we can also encourage them to take a systemic approach to their pursuit of sustainability, economic viability, and social responsibility across each step of their operations. 

PV: ​​​​​​So, you also use the principles to assess how the project is growing and evolving? How?

MSM: Yes, exactly. The overlap between the principles and Quadia’s impact objectives (fostering circular production and consumption, improving natural resource use, promoting fair value chains, and supporting local communities) made our collaboration on the FDNC-SFS fund run smoothly. By applying the Global Alliance’s principles to the fund’s operations and the company selection process, Quadia actually ended up reshuffling its evaluation criteria. They recognized how this approach enabled them to apply a systemic approach to both the selection process and the due diligence process. 

Let me share an example: one of the Global Alliance’s principles is “equity”. We have defined an objective based on this principle which is “promote fair value chains” with 3 indicators of impact which are “fair trade; value chain management; governance”. These indicators are assessed during the due diligence phase and overtime after the investment. We did the same with the 5 other principles (the framework was created before the integration of the 7th principle “inclusion” in 2020), and we have a set of 19 indicators. Of course, companies are not obliged to perform over all the 19 indicators — improvement is negotiated between Quadia and the companies involved in the fund. 

PV: ​​​​How did you find the process of implementing the principles into the work? Was it difficult? 

MSM: As one of the first members of the Global Alliance, we’ve been actively involved in the process of developing the principles — in many ways, you could call us the early adopters! Adapting the principles into our impact investment strategy was a natural step to take. Before compiling the principles in a framework, we were using two matrices to evaluate the companies: one focused on their value chains and another on their sustainability, but these matrices would never overlap or intersect. Using the principles as a framework to evaluate each step of the fund on both levels made things much easier for us and ensured a systems approach to our work. 

PV: This is all so positive to hear. So, for others reading this interview, what would you say are the opportunities and challenges of applying the principles in evaluating systemic change?

MSM: Although principles might seem too broad to operationalize at times, they are a great starting point for evaluating systemic transformation and breaking with the norm of KPIs. Over the years, we have developed a healthy skepticism regarding KPIs and how they can result in linear ways of thinking and the aggregation of impacts when it comes to evaluating our impact investments. By comparison, principles are a combination of values and objectives and can lead to different and more impactful ways of working – especially with partners and grantees. The challenge, however, can be to try and make them measurable. For us, we found a way of translating them into clear objectives with indicators and therefore made them into suitable criteria for evaluation. There’s no reason other foundations can’t do likewise. 

– Ends

Visit the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation website to find out more about their work. 

If you would like to find out more about using principles in your work, download this Framework for Action.